The Lee Gutkind Keynote Reading List: In Order of Appearance — A HippoCamp 2015 Recap

[This is a guest blog post by Amy Fish, HippoCamp 15 attendee and author of The Complaint Book.]

hippo saturday LEE-11

Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) George Orwell

To write this book, Orwell went “deep into the trenches”. He turned himself into a real street person and went two to three levels below the Paris sidewalk. It’s an excellent example of immersing yourself in your subject matter, much like Gutkind did – riding in organ transplant helicopters, sleeping in psych units, drinking beer with Major League Baseball umpires.


In Cold Blood (1965) Truman Capote

To write this nonfiction novel (as it was called then), Capote interviewed over 300 people that were involved with the murder of a family. According to Gutkind, this story “moved nonfiction in a momentous direction”.


The New Journalism (1973) Tom Wolfe

According to Gutkind, this was the first time we, as writers, were invited to talk to our readers. “He liberated our voice,” said Gutkind, “he made us come alive with voice and energy. HE WOKE US UP.” This anthology has some exciting stories that show that we, as writers, are not as boring as we look.


“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”, Esquire Magazine (April 1966) Gay Talese

This article was recently selected by Esquire as the absolute best piece ever. Gay Talese did 27,500 words about what Frank Sinatra was like when he had a cold. Everyone at the time was writing about Sinatra, and Talese found a way to write about it in a way that no one else had. It was not the subject matter (Frank, which was overdone) but how the story was told (about a cold, which hadn’t been seen before).


The Kiss (1997) Kathryn Harrison

This book was one of the first controversial memoirs that kicked off the genre’s craze. At first, people responded violently and critically to this kind of airing of dirty laundry. Gutkind said that the story was about an 18-20 year old’s relationship with a Presbyterian minister would barely cause a stir today. What Gutkind didn’t mention is that the minister was also her father – so, I’m going to beg to differ slightly here and say I’m pretty sure it would still cause a stir.


Dreams from My Father (1995) Barack Obama

This narrative elevated Barack Obama’s stature and (if you agree with Gutkind) contributed heavily to his being elected as president of the United States. “We are obsessed by story,” he said explaining that voters needed this background to understand who he is and where he came from.


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Northwest Trail (2012) Cheryl Strayed

Gutkind chose this book to show how to plunge readers into a story. Strayed always has something at stake and promises more. For example, she loses a boot at the beginning of the book, and we don’t find out what happens to it until the middle. In the back of our minds, we are always wondering what happened to that boot.


The Glass Castle (2005) Jeannette Walls

This book starts with an opening scene of the narrator sitting in a taxi watching her mom root through a dumpster. We want to know why. Gutkind used this book to illustrate how to make readers care and make readers think.


You Can’t Make This Stuff Up (2012) Lee Gutkind “Buy the book. Reading it is irrelevant,” said Lee Gutkind about his own book. I’m sure he wouldn’t care which one of his 25+ books you read, as long as you buy it first.


And If All Else Fails

Law & Order (TV Series 1990-2010)

Gutkind admitted to being a devoted fan to this show, as much for its storytelling as its ubiquity. He said writers should watch episodes of Law & Order because the plotting is consistent. The storytelling always follows the same predictable pattern that sucks you in and leaves you with cliffhangers along the way. Wherever Gutkind is, from Uzbekistan to Lancaster, you can find him watching Law & Order at 2 a.m.